[ilds] Bitter Lemons as a novel

slighcl slighcl at wfu.edu
Sun Jul 15 17:04:54 PDT 2007

On 7/15/2007 4:09 PM, Michael Haag wrote:

>         I would be interested to know what of Durrell's politics the
>         academy finds objectionable. No need to expend any trouble
>         over this, just a few bullet points would do. 

I really want  a few other posters to speak up and to give you their own 
experiences to test against mine, Michael.   I am not privileged to 
speak for or about the academy as a whole.  And my experiences will be 
framed by my teaching literature at the University of Virginia, a top 
tier US research institution whose faculty hold degrees from the very 
best US and UK universities, and at Wake Forest University, a small, 
expensive, somewhat respected liberal arts institution whose faculty is 
trending Ivy League.  Another shaping experience for my thoughts would 
be my witness to the lack of attention given to Durrell in major 
literary journals and at major academic conferences.  More often than 
not, no attention is given.

Let me first say that I am using hyperbole.  Certainly there are very, 
very small sectors of the US and UK academy giving a bit of attention to 
the writings of Lawrence Durrell.  However, you can meet those 
Durrell-attending folks almost in total sum at On Miracle Ground.  And 
note how many of these friends and scholars have larger 
specializations--as Bill Godshalk the Shakespeare scholar pointed 
out--giving time to Durrell as a minor specialization within or aside 
from the major specialization.  Thus the surprise of meeting with a 
Victorianist who edits Durrell's notebooks and typescripts.  Well, our 
world is made up of such strange little compromises.

The exact nature of the political objection is harder to pin down.  And 
my witness can only be anecdotal, not scientific.  I recall a 
Cambridge-degreed adviser who told me early on, "Dear Charles.  Lawrence 
Durrell.  Well, that is simply  not wise, I think."  Could she even 
locate the source of the objection, the prohibition?   Like 
non-academics, academics often work under the terms of too easy 
assumptions that become accepted prejudices.  Mandates and slanders and 
even casual asides from the likes of Eagleton or Said have a power to 
shape or even cut off attention to Durrell's writings in a way already 
mentioned again and again.  I would zero in on Eagleton's variations on 
Durrell as a "literary /flâneur/."  Although this /flâneur /tag is not 
necessarily negative in the larger discussion of modernity and 
aesthetics, Eagleton clearly means this as a slight against Durrell's 
lack of commitment to any progressive political ideology.  Eagleton is 
almost certainly speaking via his own Marxism and Simmel and Benjamin, 
making a political as well as a literary critique of Durrell the man.  
In other words, Durrell is a mere  /dilettante/--selfish, solipsistic, 
concerned with aesthetics and exoticism in his writing and indulgence in 
his own life.  Now for me those traits are not in themselves negative.  
I admire quite a few writers who might be tagged as /flâneur.  /Lamb. 
Pater. Wilde.  Beerbohm.  Norman Douglas.  There is nothing at all 
casual about the best dandies.  But for someone like Eagleton of the 
1980s and 1990s, well, he needed to say no more.  Durrell was suspect 
because Durrell waited upon no people's revolution.  We have seen the 
specific shadow of Durrell's aversion to the communist greying of Europe 
in his memories of Belgrade &c. in /Bitter Lemons/. 

In short, I would say that for the last several decades the Academy has 
charted a course of uplift and progressivism.  Durrell would see those 
pursuits as siren-songs, I think.  And the majority of literary studies 
over the last 30 years have returned that suspicion to him in full.  
What can his writings be used for?  &c.

Can anyone give specific bullet points pinning down political objections 
to Durrell?  My original statement that "political" objections kept 
Durrell off the radar used "politics" in a loose sort of way--politics 
as a nod to how people relate to each other and define each other and 
hold prejudices against each other. 

"Durrellian" is an adjective that is most frequently used in a negative 
sort of way, whether in criticism of people or of writings.  Perhaps we 
will live to see that changed.  But I will be here whether or not that 
ever happens.

Gone grey in the service of literature.


Charles L. Sligh
Department of English
Wake Forest University
slighcl at wfu.edu

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